It’s possible that you are inadvertently downing more critters than you realise, especially if you buy organic leafy greens or grow your own at home and pick these to eat at your table. Insects have a way of attaching to organically grown produce, and I recently found a tiny, bright green mite, still alive and attached to a curled leaf of a head of lettuce after several days in the fridge. I returned it to a sheltered spot in my garden and wished it a happy life. Even after rinsing- that’s all you need to prepare organically grown greens- I’m aware that I may miss a few, and they may be going down the hatch- MY hatch!- along with a mouthful of salad. This is not much of a concern for me. There are worse things in life! It seems that currently there is a high level of interest in the viability of insect protein as we try and explore more creative ways of feeding the millions who occupy the planet. There is plenty on the web about the nutritious properties of insects and grubs, including other pertinent food awareness issues, such as why we all need to get over ‘ugly food’ and learn to eat weeds and certain foods that we, especially Westerners, typically consider unthinkable.
Apparently I have eaten cooked Mopane worms in the past (I have this on good authority from my mother, although it’s not something that I remember specifically). The Sesotho woman who lived on our property and worked in our home in Johannesburg every day when I was young, would sometimes cook a stew of African mopane worms on a small gas burner. The worms are common to parts of Southern Africa, such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Botswana and are a popular snack and an affordable source of protein and other nutrients. From a 2013 article in the New York Daily News:
“The worm is the large caterpillar of the Gonimbrasia belina species, commonly called the Emperor moth. It’s called a mopane worm because it feeds on the leaves of mopane trees after it hatches in summer. In Zimbabwe, mopane worms are a staple part of the diet in rural areas and are considered a delicacy in the cities. They can be eaten dry, as crunchy as potato chips, or cooked and drenched in sauce. When harvest season for the worms began recently, I decided to document the process, and I found it somewhat stomach-turning. But the worms can be mighty tasty and they’re very nutritious … Zimbabwean nutritionist, Marlon Chidemo, says the worms are high in healthy nutrients and contain three times the amount of protein as beef. He says eating worms is less taxing on the environment than consuming beef because it takes far fewer leaves to produce worms than it does feed to produce the same amount of beef.”
You can read the full article Here, which includes recipes on how to cook and enjoy Mopane worms. Heads-up: you need a reasonably strong stomach to get through this article!
On the subject of ‘weeds’ and other plants which may seem unlikely candidates for human consumption, the San people of Southern Africa have a wealth of knowledge and know-how that has been accumulated over thousands of years. The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20 000 years. They obtain their food through foraging, and they understand through knowledges passed on over generations how to live in the world without taking more than you need. In terms of food and nutrients, including the medicinal properties of plants, they understand their environment: what to avoid altogether, what can be eaten raw, what can be consumed in tiny quantities and for medicinal purposes only, and what needs to be soaked or dried before consumption in order to neutralise harmful and even deadly toxins such as Cyanide.
In a post called ‘Foraging with the San people of the Kalahari- Botswana’, WordPress blogger Africanbite joins them on a hunter-gathering journey through the semi-arid Kalahari desert of Western Botswana.
As for eating garden weeds: well what is a weed anyway? The term ‘weed’ is largely a subjective term where quite literally ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’, to quote the cliche. Merriam- Webster defines ‘weed’ as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth… tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.” Much of what you may have growing in abundance in your garden and what you are quick to remove and discard may be highly edible and nutrient rich with culinary and /or medicinal benefits (I sometimes make a soup that includes nasturtium and dandelion leaves, and nasturtium leaves will help ease a sore throat if eaten raw.)
So why do we get squeamish at the thought of eating insects and grubs, and even certain plant foods? Take a look at prawns and shrimp for instance, which are eaten and enjoyed by people all over the world, myself included. However, “Shrimp are bottom dwellers who feed on parasites and skin that they pick off dead animals. This means that every mouthful of scampi you eat comes with digested parasites and dead skin.” This is according to www.peta.org on their website, and indeed most of us are aware, I think, that shrimp do scavenge in this way, so that much of their food source is decaying organic matter. Are we thinking about this as we tuck into a bowlful of seafood pasta? No, not unless we want to spoil the experience. So while we are adept at filtering out certain inconvenient truths for our own enjoyment/ convenience, we are not as good at making the connections: Grubs or shrimps: what’s the difference really? They even look alike! And when I read about what the meat industry does to live animals and to many of our precious natural resources, I feel far more squeamish (putting it mildly here) than at the thought of consuming insect protein. Perhaps it’s time to start changing the world, one Mopane worm at a time!♥